Cambodia: Khmer Rouge genocide recognized for the first time by international court
The UN-sponsored court on Friday issued a historic verdict against the Khmer Rouge regime, which led to nearly 2 million deaths between 1975 and 1979.
By Bruno Philip / Le Monde
November 16, 2018
Nearly forty years after the invasion of Vietnamese troops entered Cambodia to liberate the country from the Khmer Rouge horror, in late December 1978, the last two great leaders still alive of the regime were, Friday, November 16, convicted of " genocide ".
The regime of Pol Pot, supreme leader who died in April 1998 without having been tried, if not by his peers, during a sham trial, had long been commonly described as "genocidal" by survivors and observers. But this is the first time that the Khmer Rouge tribunal in Phnom Penh has officially recognized Nuon Chea, 92, the regime's former number two, and Khieu Samphan, 87, former head of state of "Kampuchea". "responsible for crimes described as" genocide ".
The ruling focused on the Khmer Rouge's willingness to target, in addition to the "enemies of the people" among the Khmer majority, the Cambodian Vietnamese as well as the Cham, a Muslim minority: while the expression "autogenocide" was often used until then, it now gives way to the semantically more appropriate qualifier of "genocide", in that the Khmer Rouge have also been guilty of crimes against populations eliminated because of their ethnicity.
The two accused, the ultimate survivors of a regime that probably killed nearly two million people, were responsible for their crimes before the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC). This convoluted name was the result of a compromise between the Cambodian government and the United Nations. Since 2006, it is thus a hybrid tribunal, composed of Cambodian and international judges, who judged the last Khmer Rouge.
Apart from Kaing Guek Eav, aka "Douch", the former head of the Tuol Sleng detention and torture center, sentenced to life imprisonment in 2012, other dignitaries of the regime have escaped the court's sentences: Ieng Sary, who was the regime's foreign minister, died in prison in 2013 at the age of 87; his wife Ieng Thirith, former minister of social affairs, died in 2015, in a state of advanced insanity.
Article reserved for our subscribers Read also Death of Ieng Thirith, "first lady" of the Khmer Rouge Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan had already been sentenced to life imprisonment in 2014 for crimes against humanity, including for ordering the forced eviction of the population of Phnom Penh in April 1975.
On Friday, court president Nil Nonn ruled that Nuon Chea, being "in charge of executing the orders given by Pol Pot", he is therefore "responsible, as a leader, for all crimes, which includes crimes of genocide against members of the Cham ethnic group. For his part, Khieu Samphan was found guilty of crimes committed against the Vietnamese minority, but not against the Cham.
Friday's verdict should be the last to be passed by a court that is unlikely to judge other members of the Khmer Rouge regime. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has been a former Khmer Rouge defector for thirty-three years, has always believed that the judgments of Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan would end the trial. In the name of national unity, no other Khmer Rouge should be charged. The court decided a few years ago to launch investigations against four ex-Khmer Rouge cadres at the middle level. But the investigations led to nothing and the lawsuits were even dropped against one of them, in 2017.
"Equivalent to the Nuremberg verdict"
"This verdict is equivalent to that of Nuremberg for the ECCC, and will remain particularly important for Cambodia, international justice and history," said Friday David Scheffer, who still held, last month, the functions of expert in court for the UN secretary-general.
About the crimes against Vietnamese Cambodians, "thousands remained in Cambodia [after 1975] and were systematically exterminated until 1979," wrote the historian Ben Kiernan in his book The Genocide in Cambodia (Gallimard, 1998).
As for the Muslim Cham minority, are in the order of 250,000 people in 1975, the same author estimates that "a third perished during the years of Democratic Kampuchea". Prevented from practicing their religion, like all other Cambodians, the Cham were forced to eat pork, to renounce their Muslim names, and they were forbidden to speak their language.
Rebellions erupted in 1975 against Khmer Rouge soldiers in villages in Kompong Cham province, named after the minority. In his book The Cham Rebellion (Cambodia Documentation Center, 2006), Ysa Osman points out that after these revolts, "the Khmer Rouge felt that if the Chams continued to live together, other rebellions would break out. They then decided to dislodge them from their ancestral lands and eradicate any sign of a Cham identity.
Reporting Bruno Philip, correspondant of Le Monde in
at Bangkok. Translation: Petroleumworld